Client Relationship Partners: Leader/Motivator/Diplomat/Strategist and Sector specialist


1Following on from last month's post ‘Uncertain times call for a focus on key clients’, Kevin Wheeler looks at the range of roles a Client Relationship Partner must now fulfill.

If your firm’s Key Account Management (KAM) programme is to be a success, you will need to ensure that the right people have been appointed as Client Relationship Partners (CRPs) for each key client. These CRPs will be responsible for the overall success of the firm's long-term relationship with each key client.

Just because a particular partner has been involved with a client for many years (or, indeed, has the highest billables with that client, or went to school with one of the client’s key decision-makers etc.) doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she is the best choice as CRP.

Choosing CRPs

When establishing or ‘refreshing’ a KAM programme, firms need to review all CRP appointments or, where such roles do not exist, vet all new appointments to ensure that the best people are in position. CRPs should be chosen based on a number of factors, including:

  • The strength of their relationships with the client’s key decision-makers.
  • Their tact and diplomacy in managing the interfaces between these decision-makers and the firm’s lawyers.
  • Their experience in handling legal issues faced by the client.
  • Their experience of the client’s industry.
  • Their ability to lead and motivate the firm’s team.
  • Their availability given their other client commitments.

Senior Management will almost certainly have to take tough decisions when appointing CRPs, especially if the partner who historically looked after the client is not the best person to continue. To ensure the ‘best fit’, it is also important that clients are consulted about such appointments. It may be that the client prefers to deal with several partners rather than having a ‘point’ relationship with a CRP. In that case, the CRP has to play more of an internal role; coordinating the firm’s approach in the background.

The CRP’s role

As the CRP is responsible for the overall success of the firm’s long-term relationship with the client, they are no longer just focusing on personal metrics like the number of hours that they and their team have billed. New considerations must also be taken into account, such as: the overall level of fee income from the client; the profitability of this work; the number of different services provided by the firm; the share of the client’s legal spend being captured, and the client’s satisfaction with the firm’s different services.

A CRP’s role encompasses responsibility for the following:

  • Understanding the client’s needs and expectations.
  • Assembling the appropriate service team and coordinating the delivery of services to the client.
  • Motivating the service team.
  • Ensuring the overall quality, value and timeliness of all services to the client.
  • Achieving high client satisfaction and retention, and improving service penetration.
  • Arranging regular client feedback to include post-matter and relationship reviews, and taking appropriate action following the feedback.
  • Preparing a client service strategy and plan in consultation with the service team and agreeing this with Senior Management and probably the client.
  • At least every quarter, checking progress against the plan to ensure that it is being implemented and targets are being achieved.
  • Maximising long-term, profitable revenues from the client.
Rewarding CRPs

In order to bring about the required behavioural changes expected from a CRP – and  achieve the best results from the KAM programme – our  research has shown that the firm’s remuneration system needs to be aligned with the objectives set for a CRP. In other words, an individual CRP’s remuneration needs to be dependent in part on the achievement of their client-specific targets.

In the past, many law firms have struggled to adopt a KAM approach, mainly because partners have resisted attempts to make them ‘share’ their clients with the rest of the firm. The CRP role aims to force partners to engage more with their colleagues to provide an integrated service which meets clients’ needs. In the largest law firms, where clients usually have complex and international needs, we are beginning to see some progress with both KAM and the CRP role.

Next time: how firms can succeed in mapping relationships with key decision-makers and understanding their needs.

Kevin Wheeler is a consultant and coach with 30 years’ experience advising professional services firms on all aspects of business development. He has particular expertise in designing and implementing KAM programmes for law firms, and coaches CRPs and their service teams to deliver great client service.

Filed Under: Practice of Law

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